Charlotte Fairbank, wheelchair tennis: a woman of action with a big heart!

Monday, 19 february 2024

Charlotte Fairbank, an athlete supported by Natixis Corporate & Investment Banking, reveals her passion for wheelchair tennis that she discovered several years after the accident that disabled her at the age of 15. She discusses the highlights of her dazzling career in elite sport.

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Trained as a lawyer with a degree in English and European law, Charlotte launched her career on the international wheelchair tennis circuit at the age of 25, thanks to her experience with Argentina’s national team. Subsequently selected for the French wheelchair tennis team in 2018, she joined the Porte d’Auteuil national training center in Paris and competed in the 2018 World Cup. She reached her highest ranking in 2021, in both singles and doubles, and was selected for the Tokyo Paralympics. Ranked 23rd worldwide since 2023 and 3rd in France, she’s doing her utmost to make her dreams come true: to be selected for the Paralympic Games Paris 2024, to win a medal there and at the same time introduce as many people as possible to the comic strip she’s written about disability. 

How did you discover your sport? 

It all started very late – at the age of 25! When I was a child, I used to play tennis, go horse-riding, and do athletics. Then, at the age of 15, I had an accident when I fell from a haystack, which fell down on top of me and left me a paraplegic. I gave up these different disciplines for various reasons, and put sport out of my mind. I did, however, do a lot of physiotherapy for about three years, in Italy and Spain, in order to finish my growth cycle (I gained 10 cm) and, above all, to ensure that my muscles and bones functioned properly. 

When did you decide to take up wheelchair tennis? 

Doing a sport in a wheelchair was too hard, so I had to wait until I was ready to accept it. Seven years later, I was hesitating between basketball and wheelchair tennis when working as a paralegal in a law firm. In 2014, by chance or coincidence, I decided to bring wheelchair tennis into my life because I really enjoyed the sport and was ready to play once a week. I then decided to take a break in my legal career and go to Latin America for a few months, before starting the equivalent of a master’s degree in law in England, to become qualified as a fully-fledged lawyer. 

In 2016, I set off for Argentina with my brand new tennis chair, and a volunteer project in the offing, which unfortunately didn’t come to fruition. While I was there, I found a club where Argentina’s national wheelchair tennis team was training. There were some big names in the team and I was immediately hooked. Three months later, the coach asked me to join the Argentinian national team. I accepted! 

When I returned to France in 2017, with my level in tennis, I was wondering a lot about what I should do next but, at the same time, I was competing in a lot of tournaments because I love it! Seeing me rise up in the rankings, the French wheelchair tennis team contacted me – I’m really passionate about my sport and I want to progress. When I was selected for the 2018 World Cup – I went without playing – it set the ball rolling and I made rapid progress. 

Does everything in your life revolve around this passionate focus on the Paralympic games? 

This summer, I was ranked 23rd worldwide and 3rd in France. For the qualifying rounds, you have to be in the Top 24 worldwide and at least 4th nationally. So, yes, I can say that everything in my life currently revolves around wheelchair tennis, at least for the moment! 

What’s your training routine? 

I do between two and four hours of tennis a day and one or two hours of physical preparation with a physiotherapist, not forgetting recovery time. There’s also the mental side of things: if you lose a match, for example, it can be difficult to handle your emotions. When that happens, I set myself smaller daily and weekly objectives. The help of a mental trainer can be very useful. Meditation and reading also help me to stay Zen and put everything into perspective without putting pressure on myself. Of course, I’m exhausted at the end of the day, but I try to save my weekends for recuperation, except when I’m in Paris… 

Is there another commitment outside sport that you’d like to share with us, one that’s linked to your own life and is a source of personal pride? 

Yes, I have a project that really inspires me. I’m writing a children’s book about a little girl who manages to overcome her disability. The idea is to raise children’s awareness about disabilities, such as amputations, and also to encourage families to talk openly about these things, which is an issue not frequently dealt with in children’s literature. I hope it will be published soon! It’s a project that’s been very important to me for the past two years. 

What do the Paralympic Games Paris 2024 mean to you? What is the balance between a dream coming true and doubt that you’ll achieve it?  

I’m focused on Paris: for me, the dream isn’t to improve my ranking, it’s having my family there, seeing my loved ones in the stands, and the fact of playing my tennis. When you’ve been injured, you want to feel good, to be surrounded by your loved ones. The doubt is more about the uncertainty of things, about not qualifying, about not being able to handle the pressure, or of not being up to the task. But I so really want to be there, that’s what’s driving me to continue! 

What concrete support does Natixis Corporate & Investment Banking give you?

 While I was the first athlete to be supported by Natixis – now known as Natixis CIB – it’s important to remember that Natixis was also my first major sponsor. Since 2019, I’ve been able to take part in a great many events organized by Groupe BPCE. Each time, the question-and-answer sessions are different, and that means a lot to me. I love taking part and, over time, I’ve even made some great friends. 

How would you describe yourself? 

I’m calm, not anxious, not stressed in everyday life… even though there’s a bubbling excitement inside me, especially when I’m out on the court!